New Emblazon Release by BBH McChiller!

Listen, swabbers, to this kraken tale. 
Treasure and scoundrels and setting sail. 
Sinking ships and a ghostly wail. 
Can AJ survive, or will the beast prevail?

We’re excited to announce Legend of Monster IslandBook 3 in the Monster Moon Mystery series (for ages 8 to 12),  by BBH McChiller (Kathryn Sant and Lynn Kelley).

Special price on the eBook today and tomorrow for 99 cents:  Amazon

Also in paperbackAmazon

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Slimy tentacles slither out of the toilets and tangle with 12-year-old AJ Zantony and his younger cousin, Jasmyn, while they’re visiting Zala Manor, their great aunt’s creepy old mansion.

AJ’s buddy, Vlad, the pirate rat, stops by and pleads for help in saving his species from the creatures invading the sewers. AJ, Jaz, and their friends decide to risk everything to assist Vlad, plunging deeper into sea monster lore and facing the mysterious legends firsthand.

Is it worth sailing into an otherworldly storm and confronting evil scoundrels, scarred souls, and the most nightmarish beast imaginable? The dangers mount, increasing the chances that AJ and his friends will fall victim to the Legend of Monster Island.

Watch the book trailer:

Get the first two books, too:

Monster Moon Book 1
Curse at Zala Manor
Perfect read for Halloween!

“This tale will rattle yer timbers, squiffie,
and chill ye to the bone!” ~Vlad

Curse at Zala Manor, Monster Moon mysteries, Lynn Kelley, Lynn Kelley Author, BBH McChillerAvailable in:

Paperback:  Amazon
Hardback:  AmazonBarnes & Noble
eBook:  AmazonBarnes & NobleSmashwords (formats for all e-readers)

Monster Moon Book 2
Secret of Haunted Bog

MONSTER MOON - Show Me The Bounty!

“Beware the bog, landlubbers.
If ye venture into that haunted place,
Yer every step be filled with danger. Yarr!” ~Vlad

 Hardback:  AmazonBarnes & Noble
Paperback: Amazon
eBook:  AmazonBarnes & NobleSmashwords 

Do you like spooky, fun children’s books? What’s your favorite?

BBH Kathy and Lynn

The unusual name BBH McChiller is actually the pseudonym for two authors living in Southern California: Lynn Kelley and Kathryn Sant. The mystery series began one Halloween during a discussion at a writers’ meeting about their greatest fears and ended up being one of their most rewarding experiences.

 

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Kathryn Sant is a retired Obstetrician who has witnessed the births of thousands of future readers. She has published a middle-grade novel, Desert Chase (Scholastic), and written for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrator’s newsletter. She is currently working on a middle-grade boys’ adventure novel and the next Monster Moon book. Her interest in adventure, accurate research, and genealogy has led to a love of world travel, but she also enjoys quiet evenings reading with her dogs at her side.

Lynn Kelley Author, Curse of the Double Digits, BBH McChiller, Monster Moon mysteries

Lynn Kelley worked as a court reporter for 25 years while she and her husband, George, raised their four little rascals. She was born in Pittsburgh, PA and moved to Whittier, CA at age eight. She now lives in Southern California. Most of her time involves books – either writing books, reading books, or making altered art books. The highlight of her life is time spent with her grandchildren.

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Illustrated by Emblazoner Mikey Brooks. He’s a small child masquerading as adult. On occasion you’ll find him dancing the funky chicken, singing like a banshee, and pretending to have never grown up. He is the author/illustrator of several picture books includingBEAN’S DRAGONS, the ABC ADVENTURESseries, and the author of the middle-grade fantasy-adventure novel, THE DREAM KEEPER. He spends most of his time playing with his daughters and working as a freelance illustrator. Mikey has a BS degree in Creative Writing from Utah State University. He is also one of the hosts of the Authors’ Think Tank Podcast.

How to Kill a Writing Schedule

Eruption with Mushroom CloudI’m a writer. I write books of action and adventure for the ‘Tween audience. I generally set a schedule for the many things I have to do and stick to it. This is how things usually look.

I’m currently working on a series that takes place in ancient Nubia about a young princess who is slated to be the next ruler of the kingdom, but the catch is that she’s a warrior and loves it. According to schedule, I began book #4 in the series. I think through my plot and try to pair it with a marketing strategy, but keep in mind that I’m in the process of promoting book #3.

In the midst of this I’m planning a family vacation. Not to worry, it works out fine because we’re traveling in an RV and not only can I continue working, I can also promote my books as we cross the country. Then everything goes nuts.

We leave a little behind schedule because the windshield on the RV has to be replaced. That’s not a problem because I can write while my husband drives. It’s not a problem until we reach Denver late on a Saturday night, in the middle of a thunderstorm, and the windshield is leaking and every repair shop is closed. So, instead of writing I’m packing towels around the seams of the windshield as my husband is mopping up water and searching every cabinet we have looking for caulking.

We arrive in Iowa just in time for the high school graduation of a friend’s daughter and all of the celebrations usurp any time I had set aside for writing. We leave Iowa and head toward Niagara Falls, a place I’ve dreamed of seeing as long as I can remember. We make it as far as Ohio and the drive shaft drops out of the motorhome. We get towed into the repair shop and I think, No problem, I can make up all of the lost writing time. The following day the repairs are made and we’re on the road again.

We make it to the Falls and I get the bright idea to go into Canada. I’m thinking, it’s just a short side trip and I can make a run to Costco to grab some frozen mango for my smoothies, after all we’re running pretty low. We get to the border and the patrol agent asks our reason for visiting Canada. I say, “We’re on a Costco run for frozen mango!” It must have been the wrong thing because now we’re instructed to go to the inspection station while they search the car.

How long does it take to search one Explorer? Apparently, it takes quite a bit of time, especially since they choose to search each box of books, ask me why I’m carrying so many copies of each book, and ask to see a seller’s license if I plan to sell them in Canada?

We finally get to Costco, get the mango, and head back to the US. Have we learned our lesson? No. Did we think to come up with a better reason to tell the agent for visiting Canada? No. And the search is on…again. By the time we return to the RV I am so rattled that any ideas about Nubia, or a princess, or her plans as a warrior have fled and I can’t find them anywhere. This frame of mind continues for several days and I finally give up. I decide to just enjoy the vacation and I’ll write when I get home.

Just so you know, I made it home and finished book #4 of the PRINCESS KANDAKE series. I have plans for next year’s vacation, but you can bet that I will have the next book finished before I leave home.

A Certain Point of View

One of the things that’s always fascinated me about people, and by extension writing, is the fact we all see the world through our own eyes. On the surface that may not seem astounding or provocative to anyone else, but let’s examine it a little deeper for a moment.

You’re walking on the sidewalk of a busy street in your town when a fender bender happens at the intersection ahead of you. Dozens of people saw the accident, including yourself, yet if all those people are separately asked to recount the details of the incident, a wide variety of stories will emerge. Some accounts will even directly conflict in certain details of the event, like the colors of the cars or who was at fault. All the people witnessed the same incident at the same time and all are telling the truth — at least, the truth as they saw it. (Here’s a short, interesting exercise in eyewitness fallibility if you’d like to learn more.)

How does this pertain to writing? Storytelling is all about perspective. Who is telling the story? What is their age, their background? Were they an active participant or did they merely observe it? These questions pertain to the narrator and are fundamentally important to how a story gets told. Writers also have tools like tense (present or past) to manipulate how a story is conveyed to the reader. Think of the possibilities like a nesting doll.

Russian dollsThird Person Omniscient is the outermost doll. This one encompasses all the rest. It sees and knows everything. Heroes, bad guys, this viewpoint can get inside anyone’s head and find out what’s really going on. (Just don’t try to do it all at once!)

Third Person Limited is represented by the next couple of layers, depending on the number of narrators. Some books are told from multiple characters, yet each one can only present the story from their own perspective. Other books have only one narrator who only imparts information that they know to the reader. While we can often see inside this narrator’s head, the third person perspective still positions the reader as an observer from the outside.

First Person, Past Tense introduces the next level of intimacy. The story is told to the reader directly from the mouth of the main character. Thoughts and emotions, as well as observations are shared, but strictly from the viewpoint of that character.

First Person, Present Tense is the deepest level of reader/narrator connection. The reader lives the story, moment to moment, just as the protagonist does. Everything is immediate and the technique works well for action scenes, but can seem unnatural or forced during quieter, more mundane sections.

As a writer, this last choice might seem to be the best to engage a reader and it can work to great effect. A recent, popular example is The Hunger Games. But this perspective can be extremely limiting as well. An example of this can be seen in the movie version of The Hunger Games where they added scenes with the President conversing with his staff in order to supply some back story and create more tension.

To stick with only one viewpoint can elevate our empathy for the main character, but it’s also easy to lose sight of the forest amongst the trees. I believe this is a main reason why first person narratives are more predominant and popular in middle grade and young adult literature. As we grow, we first develop a sense of self before gaining an awareness of others. In my opinion, it’s easier for young readers to identify with a first person narrator because that’s how they view the world. Things that occur outside the sphere of awareness of children are largely ignored. A missed dessert because of an unfinished plate of vegetables can be high drama for a toddler or even a first or second grader. Everything can be a sign of the apocalypse, even for those in their teens — which is also a reason why I think dystopians are so popular with the younger crowd as well, but that’s a subject for a different blog post ;-)

The story you want to tell will often lead you to your choice of perspective. If the action is centered entirely around a single character, first person might be an excellent fit. If you have a larger cast of important folks, some version of third person may be a better vehicle to work with. The main thing to remember is no one has a monopoly on the truth. We all carry our own versions of it and experience things in personal, unique ways.

I’ll leave you with a short animated video featuring a singing Obi Wan and Yoda, explaining “a certain point of view” to a bemused Luke. Take care and go out and find your own truths today!

 

TuckerPenny1010smAlan Tucker , author of The Mother-Earth Series (A Measure of Disorder, A Cure for Chaos, and Mother’s Heart), as well as a new science fiction novel, Knot in Time, is a dad, a graphic designer, and a soccer coach. Mostly in that order. He’s had a lifelong adoration of books, beginning with Encyclopedia Brown, progressing through Alan Dean Foster’s Flinx, and continuing on with the likes of Jim Butcher, Rachel Caine and Naomi Novik, to name a few.

“I wanted to write books that I’d enjoy reading. Books that I hoped my kids would enjoy too!”

Visit his website for more information about his books. View maps, watch trailers, see reviews and much more!

WebsiteFacebookTwitter | Goodreads

New Release by Emblazon Author L. R. W. Lee

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The wait is over! Book Three of this highly-rated fantasy series is now available in Kindle eBook and paperback at Amazon.

Disgrace of the Unicorn’s Honor is the third offering in L. R. W. Lee’s well-received Andy Smithson allegorical, fantasy, adventure series for middle graders – a planned seven-book series.

In Disgrace of the Unicorn’s Honor, Andy discovers more than he bargained for when his parents reveal his mom’s past and he realizes she will die when he breaks the curse unless he intervenes.

Now twelve, Andy returns to Oomaldee to find its citizens on edge after many have been turned into vulture-people. Against this background, Andy and his company embark upon the next quest, to retrieve the horn of a unicorn. But not long into it, a seductive voice calls to Andy, tempting him to surrender the next ingredient in exchange for a promise to preserve his mom. Will he be able to stop the transformation of Oomaldee’s citizens? Will he jeopardize his ability to end the curse to save Mom?

Available in Kindle and Paperback

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eBook 1, Andy Smithson: Blast of the Dragon’s Fury is now FREE. Pick up a copy at Smashwords, Kobo, Google, B&N. You can also listen to the FREE podcast of Book 1 on iTunes. Book one is also available in paperback.


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Book 2, Andy Smithson: Venom of the Serpent’s Cunning is available in Kindle and Paperback.

 

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Linda1L. R. W. Lee writes to teach her readers principles that can transform their lives – overcoming frustration, impatience, fear and more. She also shows why responsibility, diligence and dignity are the keys to true success in life. L. R. W. Lee lives in scenic Austin, TX with her husband, daughter and son.

Connect with L. R. W. at: Twitter   Website   Facebook

 

Book Trailers: The Nitty Gritty for Authors and a Bright Idea for Teachers

Sepia_Film_Strip_clip_art_hightBook trailers. Everyone seems to be creating them nowadays. With so much user-friendly technology at our fingertips, why not? Do they sell books? That’s debatable. Do they have other uses? You bet they do!

First of all, authors, do trailers sell books? If your title is already popular, yeah, a trailer might help you sell even more. But if your book is struggling in the Amazon rankings, don’t expect a trailer to work any magic. Creating a trailer can’t hurt. It is one more way for readers to discover your work. But keep in mind it’s just as hard to bring attention to a video as it is to a book.

Another reason trailers don’t sell many books is because most of them are incredibly, hair-rippingly boring. Effective trailers are short, to the point, and leave readers needing to know more. But there are a dozen bad ones for every good one. For some reason, many authors can write a killer blurb but can’t create a concise hook in video format to save their lives. I rarely give any of them more than 30 seconds.

But YOU created several two-minute videos, you may be saying. Yeah, yeah. A few years ago, I jumped on the bandwagon. With one exception, my trailers are positively mediocre. But I didn’t delete them, because when someone is already interested in my book… Let me repeat that. When someone is already interested in my book, a trailer can be useful.

For example, when I’m soliciting reviews from bloggers, I pitch the story. Then at the end of my query email, after I’ve already gotten their attention (hopefully), I direct them to the trailer. When I do this, more often than not they watch the video and accept the book.

Other times I’m asked by friends or readers which of my books they should try first or next or some similar question. I often send them links to the trailers. At this point, they want to watch. Trailers don’t sell books, but they can cement interest that’s already there.

I’m finally getting to the teacher portion of this post. I am a teacher, so my thoughts usually drift back to the classroom eventually. And nope, I’m not recommending teachers show our book trailers to their students. (You were afraid I might suggest that, weren’t you?) I’m recommending they let students create their own!

Three reasons for this:

  1. It’s a new spin on the tired old book reports. Yes, I assign them, too. But sometimes a little variety can turn drudgery into something fun.
  2. The technology is out there, user-friendly and at our fingertips. Why not teach kids to use it? (Check out Richard Byrne’s helpful post about tools.)
  3. Three, it’s a great way to connect students with authors. What author wouldn’t be tickled to get a video from kids featuring their book? Every single one I know would reach out in return. And most kids would be tickled to hear back from them. It’s a fabulous opportunity to create interest and enthusiasm for literature.

Book trailers. I don’t watch too many of them. They simply can’t compete with Hollywood’s trailers. But with a little creative thinking, maybe you can think of some great uses for them, too. After all, the technology is out there, user-friendly and at your fingertips.

In conclusion, let me mention Emblazon’s YouTube channel…which just so happens to include my one trailer I’m actually kinda proud of.

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michelleWhen Michelle Isenhoff is not writing imaginary adventures, she’s probably off on one. She loves roller coasters, big dogs, high school football games, swimming in big waves, old graveyards, and wearing flip-flops all winter. Once an elementary teacher, Michelle now homeschools two of her three kids and looks forward to summer adventures as much as they do.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Youtube | Email

Keeping it Real

There’s more to writing “tween” books than making characters come to life, crafting unique plots, and weaving suspense and humor throughout.

You also have to keep up with the times—what’s cool nowadays? What do nine to thirteen year olds think about? Are you using phrases or similes that relate to them?

This concept became obvious to me a few weeks ago when my husband and I decided to take my kids on a hike in Southern Utah.

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We were in an area with lots of natural red-rock formations. Some of them were high up on mountain tops, like the “elephant rock.” Other face-like formations were on the sides of dangerous cliffs. There was one outcropping of rocks on the top of a plateau, however, that was within our reach. By the locals it’s called the “milk bottles.”

“Huh? Milk bottles?” my kids asked. “What are those?”

It’s true. My children have never seen a milk bottle before. To them, milk comes in one gallon plastic jugs at the local grocery store.

We pointed to where the milk bottles were. They couldn’t see them. We then explained the precise location. Still nothing. Then we did one simple thing that changed their entire perspective.

“Think of them as water bottles,” I said.

“Oh,” my children said, “we can see them now!”

So, in the morning hours of that late summer day, I hiked, with my husband and children, to the “water bottles.”

Fifty years ago kids would have been stumped if you’d called them water bottles. Who drank their water out of bottles? But in 2014, that’s what our kids know.

One word can make all the difference.

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Unlocking the Reader Within You

I’ve got twin boys, Charlie and Xander. Obviously, since I’m a writer, I love to read. I’ve always loved to read. So when my kids were little, I thought, “Of course they’ll love to read, too!” I thought a kid’s interest in reading was a direct result of their parent reading to them. Um, no. At least, not with Charlie.

Xander’s interest in reading naturally evolved into a personal activity. He was choosing his own books and reading on his own from a pretty young age. Charlie, though . . . *sigh*. Not so much.

I struggled to interest Charlie in reading for years. YEARS. I bought books, I borrowed books, I tried to offer incentives, I tried making it “homework”. Nothing worked!

Reading is so important. Personally, I wondered how can a person survive in life without the escape/wonderment/joy that books can bring. As an adult, I also understood that reading plays a part in virtually everything in life. Being a good reader is not just for enjoyment, it’s essential to life success.

But … Ah! How could I get this guy to read, already!?

When Charlie was twelve, a new library opened in our town, so we went to the grand opening. I told the boys they could check out whatever book they wanted. Xan was reading big middle grade books like Harry Potter and Fablehaven, but Charlie gravitated to the Young Adult section. I was nervous about that. I wasn’t sure he was ready to handle a lot of the older themes present in so many Young Adult books.

But I decided to keep my mom-mouth shut and promised myself to stay out of his way so he could find a book he was interested in and (please-oh-please) actually READ IT.

He chose a zombie book.

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The Zombies of Lake Woebegotten by Harrison Geillor

I quickly did some research and was relieved to discover that Garrison Keillor, using a pen name, was the author of this work and I knew something about him. I don’t know if it would have mattered what I discovered, though–Charlie had chosen a book that he wanted to read. I was determined to keep myself out of it!

Now Charlie is a consistent reader. His SRI scores have increased tremendously, but maybe even more important to me as a mom/reader/writer is that Charlie has found joy in stories.

So if you’re a mom desperate to get your kid into reading, or a kid wondering if you’ll ever be able to join the reading masses, hang in there. Take yourself to the library and spend some time in whatever section appeals to you–NOT the section your friends/mother/enemy says you should be in. There’re no rules as to what makes for good reading material–just read.

And … enjoy!

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Alex 1 (2)Alex Banks likes to say she holds a black belt in awesome since the only kind of kicking-butt she does is on paper. She lives in Utah with her kickin’ husband, two sparring sons, one ninja cat, one samurai dog and four zen turtles.

Alex writes Young Adult and New Adult fiction (suitable for readers over fourteen) under the name Ali Cross.

Blog/Website | Facebook | Amazon | Goodreads | Twitter

New Release: The Columbus Initiative by Teen Author Adam Quinn #MiddleGrade

Order of the Sky (Book 3)
by Adam Quinn (aka Dark Omen)
Even as the fledgling Galactic Resistance prepares for an all-out revolution, a dark government secret comes to light that has the potential to shape the future of the galaxy.

Kindle, Nook on Adam’s website

All Adam’s books on Smashwords, Barnes and Noble
available in ebook and print
Adam Quinn is the son of Emblazoner Susan Kaye Quinn.
My son, Adam Quinn, is fifteen years old and has written three novels, a novella, and is currently working on his next novella. He seriously puts his mother to shame in the Early Potential Unlocked category. 

Click here to check out Adam’s author website, where he talks about the Columbus Initiative being his longest novel (100k), the strategy board game Resistance Rising he made to go with the book, and finally an analysis (complete with charts) of the wordcount and statistics, including charts like this:

Using longer wordlength than Romeo and Juliet…
Be still, my geeky heart.

He also has analyses of the number of female characters in each book of his trilogy, the relative “inquisitiveness” of various characters (Xasked/Xsaid), and the causes of death of his characters vs. in real-life in the US.

I just… wow.

Also check out this interview with Adam from his previous release of his novella Project Exibluar, and this post on publishing your kid’s work from when he released his novel Undercover War.

To say I’m proud of him is a serious understatement. In each novel, I can see Adam’s growth as a young person and as a writer – is there any greater gift for a mother? But these are books that more than his mother can appreciate – his brothers Mighty Mite and Worm Burner are by far his biggest fans, gobbling up Book 3 during our Canadian vacation and debating the finer worldbuilding points with him, turning into beta readers in their own right.

And the books are flat-out entertaining. Here’s a snippet to give you an idea of what I mean…

     “Done.” Aidan stood and disconnected his OWC from the computers. “We now have operational control over most of the base’s systems, including the starship entrance, and I have the profiles of all active Dark Cult cells in the galaxy on my OWC. Let’s get out of this place.”

     “How?” Steve asked.

     “The same way we got in,” Aidan said.

     “Crawling through derelict construction spaces?” Taylor asked.

     “No,” Aidan said. “With style.

And this…

     The battleship GGS Buttercup and its fleet disengaged their flip drives, returning to the third dimension from the seventh, where superluminal travel was possible. Their reentry into the third dimension presented GG Commander Mantradome with a picturesque view of Sambourloin—a soft green and blue orb in the star-speckled void. She cupped her hands around it and imagined what it would look like in splotchy shades of black and gray, perhaps with some seams of brilliant red if Sambourloin was a Tectonic planet—she made a mental note to look up if it was.

     Most times the GG offered her a special assignment that took her away from her day job of hunting down and killing pirates, she vehemently refused, but this time was different. They had offered her a chance to paint an entire planet of pirate-loving scum with her favorite colors! There were rumors on Galactica that she had gotten the job because the GG’s other top admirals had moral qualms about the operation, but she didn’t put too much stock in that—back in the day, people had “moral qualms” about strip-mining Jorkuun, but that worked out great for the economy! Besides, the GG had been mostly peaceful for thousands of years, so as the head of the Anti-Piracy Division, she had more combat experience than most in the military.

     “Uh, Commander?” an officer said. “Would you like us to set up the bombardment stations? Or…just stay here?”

     “Yes!” Mantradome said. “Clearly! You should have started setting them up as soon as we flipped in, you idiots!”

     “But, Commander, you airlock everyone who does things that you don’t explicitly tell them to,” the officer said.

     Mantradome motioned to the two troopers at the back of the bridge. “Airlock him!”

     “Wait, no!” the officer said.

     The troopers seized him and dragged him away.

Adam writes hilarious middle grade fiction that any young (or old) fan of Star Wars would enjoy, with strong female characters that make his mom proud. If you have kids, I encourage them to check out his books and see what a young writer is capable of, if they put in the time to finish a work, revise, and polish it. 

  
An elite government force crosses the galaxy in pursuit of an evil underground cult and discovers the Galactic Government they serve is filled with treachery.

After escaping the destruction of a mysterious prison-like facility without a memory to his name, ExibluarX must contend with the malevolent legacy of his unknown past and decide whether to pursue it or to forge his own course.

A Beginner’s Guide to Making Choices that Matter by Monique Bucheger

 

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Today, I’d like to talk about choices: Ones we make deliberately and ones we allow to be made for us—and how each can impact us.

The 4th through 8th grade or “middle grades” are extremely important years in everybody’s lives. These are the formative years when kids realize that life outside of their family home can be very different from what they are used to.

New ideas and concepts are pondered; new strategies to deal with the good, the bad, and the frustrating are explored—and experimented with.

Personal ethics and codes of behavior are tried on for size and comfort—often tailored and adjusted to fit the whims of peer pressure—good and bad.

Kids learn about who they are or what they want to be known as, and spend a lot of time trying to make others see them as they want to be seen or adapt their self-image to reflect what they see in other peoples’ eyes.

This can be positive or negative—depending on who is doing the accepting and / or rejecting of ideas and concepts.

We all remember the cliché kids: the class clown, the nerd, the bully, the bullied, the overachiever, the underachiever, the geek, the jock, the oddball, the social, the prep, the kid everybody liked, and the one who never quite fit in anywhere, but desperately wanted to.

Perhaps we were one or more of them—or another cliché student—either mixed up or altogether different at some point in our career as middle-grade students.

There comes a time when each person needs to make determinations about who they are, who they want to be, and take the steps to be that person.

This exploration and defining of our core self (of who we are and who we want to be and what that person looks like) becomes earnest and most important in our middle-grade years. This process is often the biggest foundation and shaper of our future self.

Children who are blessed with positive influences and a belief in their inherent goodness, travel through these formative years less scathed than children who are told they are worthless, and those who have the sad misfortune to believe such an atrocious lie.

Until Oct 1st, my friend, James A. Owen has given this link to allow his book: “Drawing Out the Dragons” FREE (a $19.99 value). He is highly sought after as a speaker for middle school audiences.

James is a supremely talented artist, and internationally bestselling author, and a superb human being—a self-proclaimed “Awesomist”—one who seeks to bring out the best in others and shares hard learned insights to bring light to other peoples’ lives.

I bring this up because a big part of the reason James is as successful as he is today is because he made courageous decisions about who he wanted to be as a middle-grade student.

Because we Emblazoner Authors are all about middle-graders—I wanted to take this opportunity to share this amazing book and it’s incredible insights to the audience it was meant to influence most: Tweens and young teens. (and it is only FREE for the next week.)

When he was 11, James spent several months in a hospital pretty certain he was going to die—three of his young roommates did die within a month of his admission to the hospital.

Doctors didn’t know what was wrong with him; they only knew he was becoming sicker as time went by. At age 11, James had decisions to make about what his future would—and should—hold. Believing he didn’t have much of a future—quite possibly only weeks or months, James fast-tracked those decisions with actions so that he could make the most of the time he had left.

The top banner on the cover of “Drawing out the Dragons” says: A Beginner’s Guide to Making Choices that Matter. This is a profound concept because quite often—even adults allow things to happen to them rather than be heroes in their own lives by making deliberate choices to be the best person they can be.

To be a hero in your own life, each person needs to take a stand and become the wind—rather than the leaf—that is buffeted about by the wind.

Making deliberate choices about how you live your life, and what you do on your personal journey here on earth directly affects your influence on what happens to you and how you affect those around you.

Two powerful messages that James repeats in his book are:

 If you really want to do something, no one can stop you.

But if you really don’t want to do something, no one can help you.

 ~and~

Never, ever, sacrifice what you want the most,

for what you want the most at that moment. 

 

Think about these messages a minute.

To further quote James:

“All good things happen . . . In Time.”

Choices are cumulative, but the results are not always apparent, or immediate. Sometimes you just have to keep making the right choices, even if it seems there’s no benefit to doing so.

Sooner or later, there will come a moment when what you really want most is tested, and how you respond in that moment will reveal the culmination of your choices. 

At that defining moment, his second message becomes truly powerful:

Never, ever, sacrifice what you want the most,

for what you want the most at that moment. 

It is my hope that the Tweens and others who read this post realize how important it is to make deliberate choices as to who they want to be and learn to believe in themselves and their dreams because truly:

 If you really want to do something, no one can stop you.

But if you really don’t want to do something, no one can help you.

So go forward and make informed choices–your future self will thank you.

Laugh lots … Love much …Write on!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Giant Web in the Brain—The Science of Creativity

I just spent several days in Tijuana, Mexico, doing volunteer medical work. My favorite site when I travel there is a community the volunteers fondly call ‘the dump’.

Yes, a real city dump. We set up a portable medical clinic at the site of the landfill, a place of extreme poverty, where, over time, a shanty town has risen from the trash-filled ground. Literally. Dig down a few inches anywhere and it’s someone else’s garbage.

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Pepenadores—waste pickers—are people from the community who make their living picking through the trash left by dump trucks. Almost everything they have, wear, or eat comes from the dump. In the garbage, families find what they need to survive.

But this outcast community is an amazing place. As I make my way past a row of homes I’m stunned by the ingenuity of the people. They’ve built everything they need from junk that was uncovered in the landfill.

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Example of artistic construction from junk. Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. A wall is built from bottles, bottle caps, and cement. The restaurant’s owner grew up in Mexico in extreme poverty and he continues to re-use and re-purpose junk.

Houses on the landfill are pieced together from tarps, pallets, plywood, corrugated metal, and even old garage doors. Furniture is constructed using everything imaginable from buckets to tires. And art that can be sold is created from things like bottle caps, glass, and oil cans. It would seem ‘Dump city’ is a perfect example of creativity as a result of necessity, where everything thrown away is re-used, re-cycled and re-purposed.

So I began wondering about creativity and ingenuity. How can a community so impoverished be so creative to make everything they need from only the items they find? So many people living in America couldn’t even deal with that sort of existence, let alone survive.

Is creativity something one is born with or is it born of necessity? Is it a game of life where either you’ve got it or you don’t? What is creativity, anyway?

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Mexican art from junk, Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. This is a bench made from a discarded bed frame.

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Mexican art from junk, Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. Light fixture made from a tin can.

At the end of the clinic day, I walk the paths across the landfill. There are no sewers nor garbage collection on the dump. Electricity is stolen from nearby electrical poles and the dirt roads are pockmarked with mud-filled holes. There are no city services in an illegal town.

When there’s a rain storm, the hillsides bleed trash. Needles and bottles, plastic utensils and doll’s arms poke out of the mud like broken bones from an open wound.

Garbage tumbles into the ravines below, and mangy, stray dogs and wild chickens roam the debris. American volunteers see an abundance of trash, but the people living there see raw materials to make something they need.

Fires can erupt from the methane produced by decomposing trash, and when they do, homes are destroyed. Then the people, with unbelievable optimism, start over, fabricating new homes and new furniture from junk they salvage, and they continue their lives, but their lives are always difficult.

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Even though they’re living on top of decades worth of trash, there’s a cemetery on the landfill where the dead are buried. The graves are piles of dirt or cement slabs, but families have planted trees, painted many of the slabs with bright colors and fabricated decorations. Walk through the graveyard in November and it’s gorgeous. Nearly every gravesite is beautifully decorated with flowers, offerings, and handmade religious items, all in celebration of El Día de los Muertos, the Day of the Dead.

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Mexican art, Tio’s Tacos, Riverside, CA. A painted skeleton head is often seen during Day of the Dead celebrations.

Every path I walk in the landfill community there is evidence of creativity despite the heavy burden of poverty. This phenomenon doesn’t happen only in the Tijuana dump. Across the world, especially in poorer countries, art is often the first commodity created, made from whatever the people have around them and sold on the streets to tourists.


Teaser of the upcoming documentary film “Landfill Harmonic”

In Paraguay, people living on a landfill have used the trash to create musical instruments. Their instrumental music is now available everywhere on the globe and a movie about them is in the works. Constructing instruments from junk and then playing them beautifully is real creativity!

So, how is creativity in such deprived areas explained?

Is necessity the mother of invention?

Sort of. But there’s more to invention than just necessity. According to scientist Jonathan Schattke, who is often quoted on this subject, “Necessity is the mother of invention, it is true, but its father is creativity, and knowledge is the midwife.”

The latest science agrees, suggesting there are many factors that go into invention and creation. Need plays a role, like in Tijuana, but studies suggest that creativity entails a lot more.

Is creativity a right brain activity?

Neuroscience has given us new insights about creativity, clarifying what it is, and more importantly, how to enhance it. Creativity is not located solely in one spot on the right side of the brain. We can no longer use the excuse to explain away someone else’s creativity as, “Well, they were just born with it.”

MRI studies (where people solve riddles or brain teasers, create rap lyrics, draw or otherwise improvise inside the MRI machine) show that when a person is being creative the brain lights up in many, many locales—not in a single spot on the brain’s right side. All over the brain, right and left, these illuminated areas are associated with facts, experiences, motor activity, emotions, knowledge, and memories.

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It would seem, everything we have ever experienced is involved in our creativity.

Studies show that creativity is exactly that, a spark, a new and unique connection between two or more spots in our brains. A person who has a greater number of points (call them memories, facts, experiences) in their brain to draw upon is much more likely to have that new and unusual connection, that spark of creativity.

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A brain with few facts and experiences can only make a few ordinary connections.

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A brain with many facts and experiences can make more connections, especially more unique connections.

What about kids?

On the Tijuana landfills, children often work alongside their families. They collect and try to sell to strangers all sorts of items they’ve found or made. These kids aren’t old enough to have a lot of knowledge or experiences, so why do children everywhere seem to have a tremendous amount of creativity without a lot of knowledge?

Kids often connect their dots randomly and therefore stumble into creativity. Their thinking isn’t rigid about what experience is supposed to connect with which fact. They are more likely to make spontaneous and wild connections, which adults see as creative. Those same adults tend to suppress any odd ball connections they might have.

But, studies show that by third grade the ability to connect random dots in a creative or unusual manner decreases. One of the theories thrown out there is that kids are limited by a growing awareness of rules and regulations. Others say it could be the educational system. And as kids get even older, the peer pressure to fit into an accepted mold discourages both creativity and individuality.

So how are we supposed to counter those forces in order to maintain or encourage childhood creativity?

The answer seems to be in providing kids with creative outlets. Scientists suggest asking them open-ended questions, playing ‘what-if’ games, and giving them problems that require creativity in solving, such as riddles or situations where the answers aren’t obvious. What can they make from three random objects or what can they draw from a squiggle on a piece of paper?

Take kids to new places and provide them with lots of knowledge, information, and experiences to populate their brains. Encourage curiosity. Follow the ants to see where they go instead of stepping on them. Help kids build a repository of memories and then let them freely explore the ideas that result.

How can a person enhance his or her own creativity?

Most Americans don’t have survival as the impetus to be creative like the people who live on the landfill. But for those whose job requires creativity or who have a creative hobby, what can be done to enhance it? Science tells us a number of ways we can stimulate our own creativity.

Make more dots that can be connected across a wide range of knowledge and experience.

Discoveries, inventions, and creative ideas come from synthesizing information across different fields and building on the works of others. Most creative or scientific breakthroughs come from people who have been learning about their own field for many years. Studies suggest it takes approximately ten years worth of experiences or knowledge in any given area to be able to invent or create something really new and innovational.

But all experiences count. It’s easy to see how important it is to create a storehouse of knowledge and memories that we can draw upon later, providing our brains with a web of opportunities to spark that unique connection.

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Be optimistic.

No matter how hard they have it, most people living on the Tijuana landfills are optimistic, always hoping for a better life. Studies show that being positive works alongside knowledge and experience to boost creativity and ingenuity. Realizing that first ideas are often worthless (the simple, easy connections in the brain), we should push ourselves further until we have that flash of genius (combining ordinary ideas in extraordinary ways).

Take a shower (But keep a waterproof notepad handy).

There are many anecdotes about how someone got an idea or an answer to a problem in the warm relaxation of the shower or bathtub. One of the ideas for the Hubble telescope folding arms came to its engineer while taking a shower. Greek scientist Archimedes was stepping into a bathtub when the principle of fluids came to him. Creativity doesn’t blossom under pressure. We need to relax. A shower does that.

Have some alone time.

Inventor and engineer Nikola Tesla said that to be alone is the secret of invention, that working or relaxing alone is where ideas are born. Often daydreaming and pondering without interruption triggers those obscure connections we seek.

Take a walk.

Taking a walk helps us get away from our problem for awhile. It also allows our subconscious to work on testing connections without putting up barriers. Once all the raw material is loaded into our mind, we need to allow it to incubate while we take a slow pleasant walk. Listen to the birds. Smell the flowers along the way. Eureka! The answer to our problem has appeared to us, like magic.

Take a trip or live in a foreign country.

The American Psychological Association was the first to study the links between living abroad and creativity. It found that foreign travel was like thinking outside the box, expanding one’s experiences and knowledge and boosting creativity. After living many years in Paris, the Spanish artist Picasso created Cubism only after he spent time studying art in Africa.

Take a nap.

Wasn’t Sir Isaac Newton relaxing/napping under an apple tree when an apple fell on his head? Was it the nap or the experience of the apple conking him in the head that sparked his first ideas about gravity? Or both?

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Napping works. A power nap of twenty minutes helps alertness and motor skills. A ‘REM sleep’ nap of sixty minutes or longer can boost your memory, energy, and especially creativity, helping you solve those creative problems. On the other hand, sleep deprivation has been proven to stifle creativity and problem solving.

Then there’s Google.

We’ve all heard of Google employee job perks—a place to take a nap, music, serene grounds to stroll through, a basketball court, library, and gym, etc.  Well, it turns out, these types of diversions are the very things science says will trigger those sparks of genius that the Google employees are known for. Google is correct. These diversions may not be perks at all, but a necessity for creativity.

Finally…

Is creativity something one is born with?
No. Anyone from any background can be creative. Given enough knowledge and experiences to build upon, almost anyone could create something unique or innovational. The goal is to pack your brain with facts and experience which you can draw upon later when you need it.

Is creativity in a specific spot in the right side of the brain?
No. In an MRI scan, the brain lights up in multiple places during creative activities. The brain draws upon all the experiences, memories and knowledge the person has to reach a solution.

Can creativity be enhanced?
Yes. We can increase the number of possible connections in our brain. That means we must see more, learn more, do more, feel more. When we need a creative idea, we allow our subconscious to work on making those connections. Relax. Take a shower. Take a nap. Take a walk or even a trip.

The spark of an idea or the answer to a problem can come in any moment, in peace and quiet, in a diversion or in physical activity, so keep your phone or notepad handy.

JellyFishSharkCollageTijuana graffiti – Jellyfish, Shark, and Turtle

 

I created this post after visiting a foreign country, walking my dogs—and then taking a nap.

How do you boost your creativity?

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Kathryn Sant is a retired obstetrician who has witnessed the births of thousands of future readers. She has published a middle-grade novel, Desert Chase (Scholastic), and under the pseudonym BBH McChiller she is a co-author of the fun, spooky Monster Moon mystery series. Curse at Zala Manor is the first book in the series, Secret of Haunted Bog is the second title, and the upcoming Legend of Monster Island will be the third. She is currently working on two middle-grade boys’ adventure novels and the next Monster Moon book.

Her interest in adventure, research, and genealogy has led to a love of world travel, exotic adventures, and museums of all kinds. But she also enjoys quiet evenings reading with her dogs at her side.